Sunday, February 04, 2007


How do you take your own picture underwater? My dive buddy, Will, took this and I returned the favor. We were diving the Flower Garden Banks in the Gulf of Mexico --participating in a teacher workshop called Down Under Out Yonder.
Someday I hope to reconnect with the wonderful people I met there.
So how do you see your own writing through another writer's eyes? How do you see another author's work? Do you disparage? Are you in awe?
What is it like having a mentor?
Do you have a mentor?
Tell me about it.

1:30 pm and 79 degrees. This is Monday's post a day early!
I want to tell you about a book.
"Sir Vidia's Shadow" by Paul Theroux. It's the story of a thirty year long friend ship and mentoring relationship. A fascinating glimpse into the minds of two very different and accomplished writers. The angst. The pain of creation. The doubt. I was compelled to finish it once I started; as a writer myself, I learned much about my own journey while reading this book. I recommend it highly.
After I finished reading it, I became analytical about my own relationship with Paul and others who have been generous enough to guide me.
So how did I meet Paul Theroux? I hear you ask.
Well you might call it serendipitous chance, and being the right person at the right time in the right place. All the stars were aligned.It was meant to be.
A phone call. "Can you give Paul Theroux and his wife horseback riding lessons?" a mutual acquaintance asked.
Of course, I could. A friendship grew. Events conspired. Paul found out I wrote and offered to read my manuscript. I was in agony, but handed it over anyway. He told me he enjoyed it and offered his suggestions for improvement (your narrative goes too fast through the last half of the book) and let me know my strengths (your writing is vivid, distinctive and you have wonderful story ideas).
He recommended readings (Maugham, Conrad, Greene, Simenon). Note: even after 44 books, he continues reading, thinking about writing, studying technique. Analyzing.
When told him I had an idea -- what I thought was a unique premise and described my vision -- he told me to stop work on everything else and immediately write that book, then give it to him when I was finished.
When Paul read the original draft of Lottery he said, "This will be your first book published."
It appears he was right. He rejoiced with me when I found representation and was thrilled when Lottery was sold.
So, what do we do now?
We talk about writing. I email him when I read something interesting -- especially when he is in someplace exotic like Siberia -- where he is now.
He provokes me to think, pushes me to write, and have confidence in what I produce.
He does not demean genre. He does not disparage. He finds good things and talks about them.
But it is mostly up to me. He will point out a sentence he especially likes, suggest I transform a narrative into dialogue or tell me about an article he is currently writing or has published.
He is the hardest working writer I know.
When I peruse blogs and read about disappointing critique sessions or writers' groups that are adversarial, I think of what I have, and am gratified an author of this caliber has taken the time to give me a helping hand.
Did he recommend me to his agent?
Did he suggest an agent?
Did he encourage me to find representation?
Mentoring is not pulling you up by the bootstraps. It is a touch. A suggestion. It is teaching you to fish, rather than handing you a meal.
So. What goes around comes around.
When I find myself in a position to help another writer?
I will.
Because that's how it works.


Holly Kennedy said...

Nicely put, Pat!

This is the epitome of what a mentor should be. Not someone to do it for you, but someone who encourages YOU to do it for YOU.
I'm a big believer in fate and meeting those we are meant to meet when the time is right.

ORION said...

I have to say that Holly was my very first mentor. I met her at Maui and she helped enormously with my querying and writing.
Many Kudos to Holly!

Kim Stagliano said...

What a coincidence! I too just blogged about the importance of mentors. What a gift they are. We're freezing in CT. FREEZING I tell you. Freezing without snow seems rather pointless.

Heidi the Hick said...

Oh wow. Pat, this is the whole story that you hinted at the first time you left me a comment. Interesting how it worked out!

Um, you know, I kind of unofficially sort of in a way, like in a very detached kind of way, feel like you and all the other writers I've discovered who have blogs, are slightly like mentors to me despite not actually knowing any of you.

I really hope that's okay with you...

Michelle Zink said...

Wow, Pat, this post really touched me.

What a wonderful human being Paul sounds and how fortunate for you that you found him when you did.

That said, you are clearly an equally wonderful person, and I'd venture a guess that he thinks himself fortunate as well.

As do I, though I don't know you except through your blog.

You have a way of making what we do seem beautiful and important, even while we're puilling our hair out with rewrites and edits and sticking points...

Thank you.

LadyBronco said...

I do not have a mentor per se, but the closest thing I have is a fellow blogger. (and she probably has no idea.) :0)

She has given me a few suggestions, and directed me to a spot on the web where I have been able to glean knowledge I did not possess before.

She's not published yet, but I think she will be.

Kimber An said...

I have several mentor-type Blog Buddies and several writers-in-the-trenches-with-me Blog Buddies.

Although I'm very grateful to have them, I'm constantly filled with uncertainty. I've been that way about life in general since I had my miscarriage in October. There's no logical reason for it. I can only assume it's part of the grieving process.

Becky said...

It's wonderful having someone encourage you when and how you need it. When I neared the end of my first internship (in health care), my clinical instructor told me I had been invaluable the few weeks I had been there and was more like an employee (i.e. professional) than a student. I try to recall all the encouraging things people have done for me and told me over the years and give others the same boost when they need it. People sometimes don't realize what an impact their words can have on others.

On a side note, Kimber An, I'm sorry for your loss. The same thing happened to me this past November. I've been plagued with more than the usual uncertainty since then also.

ORION said...

Wow I go away for a few hours and when I come back you guys are having a party!
Kim S. I won't say that last night it got down to 66 degrees and I put all the blankets we had on the bed PLUS 2 cats.
Heidi I'm honored...really! It is SO important to give back.
Michelle - thanks so much but it is amazing how all of us help each other in this way.
Lady B -Watch out! Mentors lurk around every corner!
Kimber an - uncertainty follows us everywhere -- it is how we face it that makes us what we are.
I so enjoy everyone's comments on this blog.

Sam said...

Very thought-provoking.
I don't have a mentor, per se, but I have a thousand idols, whose work I admire, whose stories inspire me.

Lisa, Amy, Hannah & Lynne said...

Pat, this is a beautifully written post. I remember when I read about your deal on PubMarket and thought, I have to read this book. It was before I'd heard of you or of your blog. Reading this post makes me even more excited to read Lottery. What a wonderful writer you are.


ORION said...

Hey writers' blog (check it out on my links)
Thanks for the props.
We sometimes confuse mentoring with critiquing and it is not at all the same. I think it could be a great topic for further discussion.
I am glad you enjoy my posts.

Therese Fowler said...

I've never had a mentor. It's a lovely thing, though, and I too try to give to other writers in what ways I can.

Some of my grad school workshops were adversarial at times, which surprised and disheartened me. It's so difficult to hold on to one's self-esteem when learning to write!

I'm so pleased to have found so many of you here in cyberspace--the camaraderie means a lot!

Demon Hunter said...

I've been by your blog a few times but never had a chance to post. Loved what you said about mentors. Mine is a published writer friend of mine who referred to his agent.

Loved the pics. I always said that I would go diving, but I need to learn how to swim first! Seriously afraid of large bodies of water!

~I am HorrorWriter from Absolute Write~ saw you alot of there, and decided to drop by!

Anissa said...

I am still new to the world of writing as a whole and the blogosphere in particular. That said, I have found everyone to be so very helpful and encouraging. It's great to find people willing to offer something of themselves to people that they really don't even know. I am so very grateful to have found such a community. Thank you all.

M. G. Tarquini said...

What Holly said. And you. I'd say more, but my brain went into overload about two week ago.

adrienne said...

The mentor relationships grow out of mutual respect. This is a great story Pat, and really demonstrates that not everyone is out there to use one another. Some people are merely there for help and encouragement. It's nice to know.

How come I am always a day late in reading your entries?

ORION said...

I don't know A. Probably because I have started posting the night before as I'm getting too busy in the morning.
I think that blogging communities can be wonderfully supportive but you do have to consider who you're listening to and whether what they have to say is useful or true for you.
There are many paths to publication.

Stacy said...

Fun picture!

Great thoughts on mentors. I don't have a specific mentor, but I have a lot of people who have guided and encouraged me.

Melissa Marsh said...

I do not have a mentor and right now, I dearly wish I did!

ORION said...

Stacy and Melissa bring up a good point. How do you know when you have a mentor and how do you get one?
I think this would be a great post topic.
What do you think?